My first 10 days of Lent have been spent like I was not prepared for it (which I wasn’t!). I have nothing specific I’m trying to give up (unless it would be weight!), nothing I’ve decided to take up, or even doing anything very different from what I was doing before Lent. Let’s face it—in many ways I am in the doldrums of living, and Lent can be a season of doldrums. Sometimes life is just going from day to day, focusing on whatever comes up and trying to do what is correct or even right.
Our readings today have a variety of themes, at least from what I have read from the theologians. Our own Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley sees the themes of suffering and hope, perseverance and faith, our Bible study talked about trust and being faithful, and one of the commentaries I read talked about relationships and promises. I decided to focus on something different—that God is trying to get our attention, God wants us to listen and understand, and God wants us to live as Jesus showed his disciples.
In our Genesis reading God got Abram’s attention in a big way (how God actually contacted Abram we do not know exactly!). Abram is told magnificent and unbelievable promises, including having a child at an advanced age, and that the future would be filled with his descendants too numerous to count. Abram is to keep the covenant with God, and his reward will be the continuous favor of God.
In our Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus get his disciples’ attention by telling them what is his future—to “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”. Instead of responding by asking what they were to do, they rebelled and received a tongue lashing. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus then told the crowd, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
In the very next chapter after this, God/Jesus really gets the attention of Peter, James, and John with the Transfiguration of Jesus, in which God tells them to listen to Jesus.
So, today, how does God get our attention? I set out to answer this question as I wrote this sermon, by thinking about how God seems to have been in my life as I moved through it this past few days, and also to look online at current news stories and see where God is present.
I’ve been looking, off and on, for another job for the past few months. Just lately, from nowhere, I got contacted from a company that has access to getting contract jobs at Boeing. So, I have had one interview already, and maybe will get another this week.
Whether God has actually contacted me, or just that I feel God’s comforting presence whenever I talk to the contract company or with Boeing people—it’s good enough for me!
God also got my attention when I went to Westport to help Sarah with the lunch last Thursday. A man came in and sat down and talked to Sarah for awhile while I was doing some painting and cleanup. Then we started to have lunch and I sat at his table and began to talk with him. He told his story of how he is living in a tent nearby to save money so he can find a fixer trailer for him and his mother to live in. He is about my age, has lived a rough life working in the fishing industry all over the world, and is now just hoping for a break with getting SS and maybe some disability help. I felt honored to be there talking with him, as he talked about things that are really important for him in his life, and I saw how our work as the hands of Jesus may be able to help him. Several items of clothing that Joyce brought in were given to him to replace some worn out ones, and we gave him more food to take with him.
Of course, in the events of today, there are many ways to easily be convinced that God is not present at all, or even cares. But, here are a few items (courtesy of Huffington Post) where I believe he is present and wants our attention to do likewise.
--After weeks of news of hatred around the world against Jews and Muslims, Norwegians have shown humanity what it truly means to love your neighbor. On Saturday, hundreds gathered around the Central Jamaat-E Ahl-E Sunnat mosque in Oslo to participant in and support a human peace ring, an effort to show solidarity and respect for their Muslim brothers and sisters. The event was a symbolic "thank you" to Muslims, many of whom had formed a popular "peace circle" around an Oslo synagogue last weekend.
--Pope Francis launched a fresh attack on economic injustice on Saturday, condemning the "throwaway culture" of globalization and calling for new ways of thinking about poverty, welfare, employment and society. For those living "at the existential margins" the current social and political system "seems fatally destined to suffocate hope and increase risks and threats".
--Sister Joan Chittister, a devoted Roman Catholic nun for six decades, and the author of nearly 50 books, travels the world spreading her universal message of peace, justice and equality -- especially for women. During her conversation with Oprah on an upcoming "Super Soul Sunday," Sister Joan shares how she learned the true definition of humanity at a very young age, and how it's the most powerful tool we have to end global suffering and injustice. "Humanity is about identifying with somebody else's pain, with being there," she says. We all know the familiar ache our hearts feel when we see someone who is suffering. Our humanity, Sister Joan explains, is the powerful thing that stops us from passing by that person on the road. "Humanity is the ability to hurt for the others because that's the only fuel that will stop the injustice," she says. "You must know people as people, and you must do what they need in the middle of their pain."
--It’s been a tough winter for Boston. An incredible 101.8 inches of snow has fallen on the city so far this winter, CBS reports, shattering records and wreaking havoc on the public transportation system. It’s also been one of the coldest Februaries on record. Rev. Nancy S Taylor, Senior Minister of Old South Church, said that the weather was turning from "historic to dangerous and costly." “Being caught outdoors on a platform in bitter weather and no train in sight. Every single homeowner is worried about what damage the ice and snow will leave behind. So many people are feeling so isolated: if you are elderly or frail or use a device for mobility, forget it. You’re stuck inside,” Tasked with uplifting the spirits of the weatherworn congregations, the city’s Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders decided to join forces. In a YouTube video, the clergy members reminded Bostonians that they’re not alone -- and to offer friendship or “casseroles” to neighbors in need. Rabbi Matthew V. Soffer, of Temple Israel of Boston, said that this was the first time Boston’s Interfaith clergy tried reaching out to the city through social media. He said the reception had been “overwhelmingly positive.” “Homelessness is up, and this winter is taking such a toll on our communities. Hopefully the snow has passed. But whatever comes our way, Boston should know that its faith leaders and our communities are here, we are together, and we are committed to helping this city endure and thrive.”
--From one much closer to God now: “The miracle is this. The more we share, the more we have”--Leonard Nimoy.
The examples go on and on. What they tell us is that God is speaking through others, helping us to see what work is there for the followers of Jesus to do. John (Tennefoss, a member here) stated it rather clearly at our last Bible study--what people who believe in God seem to be missing is how big God’s grace can be. He said that we need to really look for God and use the full measure of the grace God provides to make our place here more like God wants for us all.